My second day in South Korea was jammed packed! It was also very hot and humid today, reaching 83 degrees. In South Korea, you see some people walking outside wearing masks due to the pollution from China.
We began the day at the Seoul National School for the Deaf, educating students from kindergarten to high school. There are fourteen other schools in Seoul for the deaf, but no University like NTID or Gallaudet. The principal explained that the attendance has declined over the years substantially. One reason is the amount of young students getting cochlear implants and attending mainstream schools. The other reason is a decline in people who are deaf.
My thrill for the day was attending a high school class of eight and meeting the students. They were so friendly and excited to meet us. One of the students is learning ASL, in addition to being fluent in Korean Sign Language. Many of these graduates end up working in manufacturing if they do find work. When I asked one student why he aspires to work for Canon, he said because he could work in manufacturing. That is really the only opportunity available to the students in Korea. The teacher asked me if it were true in the US that we had deaf students who became lawyers? I told him yes and he asked how this was possible. With education and seeing people who are deaf as people with ability, it is possible. Remember, South Korea is behind the US and we still have a high unemployment rate for people with disabilities.
Geonhyeong, our translator and Embassy intern, went to lunch with us at a fantastic restaurant with Korean barbecue. It is so nice to spend time together. Our schedule was so tight we had to keep it to one hour. We have two other visits today.
We went next to the Gyeonggi Center for Disabled Services. Gyeonggi is the largest province in South Korea and this center houses various agencies for the blind, counseling services on help with finances, human rights and other disability services. It reminds me of the Ed Roberts Center in Berkeley in design. Every meeting we attend always has a presentation for us of the services with a meeting, before the tour. This center is very impressive and in South Korea is one of the most progressive. One very sad fact they shared was about people with disabilities housed in nursing homes and how the human rights groups work to make sure they are not abused, as they have been in the past. Change is coming, because I asked about disability rights groups and they have one.
They protested even at this center. In other areas of the province, they have chained their wheelchairs to gates protesting about issues like access. ADAPT is coming and that is a great sign!
This center offers services for restoring wheelchairs, rehabilitation, services for the deaf and hard of hearing, and so many other critical services. They assist all ages from kindergarten age to adults. It is like a one-stop center for all services. When I asked about services for people with mental disabilities, they explained that in South Korea this group faces the greatest discrimination, which is no surprise to me. I found this center to be a great service to all people seeking assistance and really enjoyed meeting the team.
Our last visit was to Narewul Social Welfare Center. This is a large community center for people with disabilities, the elderly, and families. This center integrates people with and without disabilities to participate in a choir, dancing, craft making, playing billiards, educating, and so many other areas. For example, they teach gardening and have a small greenhouse. They also teach people with disabilities to be baristas. They have a significant amount of people with developmental disabilities whom they serve.
It was interesting that when we saw their video, one elderly man told about how he did not want to be around people with disabilities until he began attending this center and now they are like his children and grandchildren.
To attend this center there is no fee for those who are very poor, a discount for the next economic group, and all others pay a fee.
If the goal is breaking down barriers, they are doing a great job!
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